A second half winner from Glen Loovens left St. James’ Park rather silent in a disappointing boxing day showing as Newcastle fell 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday.
The glancing header from the Owls’ center back was enough to seal the victory for Sheffield over a lackluster Magpies group who clearly missed their offensive play maker in Jonjo Shelvey.
Sheffield’s goal was impressive, coming from a well taken corner that bounced around and ended with Looven hammering home the winner past a sprawling Karl Darlow. It was a blemish on an otherwise stellar performance from Darlow. There was nothing he could have done to stop the point-blank effort. In truth, it was an unlucky goal for the Magpies.
However, Newcastle was woeful in the final third. They dominated possession throughout the match, but failed to work Sheffield Wednesday keeper Kieren Westwood much in the second half. Jack Colback failed to generate the same number of chances that Shelvey usually creates as Newcastle finished the match with only four shots on target.
The best opportunity that Rafa Benitez’s group had to score came midway through the first half when Dwight Gayle took a shot at Westwood, who deflected it off the crossbar and back out. Newcastle failed to truly threaten again the rest of the half.
A match like this, that leaves Newcastle only a point above Brighton atop the table, makes fans wonder what if Shelvey had played. The Magpies’ midfielder missed the Boxing Day clash as he served the first of his five match ban.
It was an unfortunate loss for Benitez’s side and one that could have easily have gone their way instead. Referee Paul Tierney did not have a great game. He missed what could have been a penalty for winger Matt Ritchie late in the first half that would have greatly changed the game. He did issue six yellow cards to Owls players, but the game was overly physical and Tierney let it continue that way for a little too long.
Monday’s loss was the second match in a row where Newcastle looked less than stellar. Next up is a Nottingham Forrest team that toppled the Toons less than a month ago. Benitez is going to need to find some offense if Newcastle is to hold onto its top spot.